When a student’s internet activity is flagged, an administrator or counselor meets with the student, and the behavior is rarely repeated, says Williams. Most offenses are relatively minor violations of the district’s use policy — although a few enterprising students were caught looking for instructions to install a VPN for bypassing the web filter.
In April, NCPS added a Relay feature that monitors students’ district email accounts for key words and phrases that might indicate an interest in pornography, drugs, self-harm, suicide, gun use, or use policy violations. “We’ve had at least two cases where we’ve identified students who were thinking about suicide, and we were able to notify administrators and get them appropriate help,” says Williams. “Ninety-nine percent of what is flagged is pretty innocuous, but we want to make sure we catch the small amount that’s not.”
Machine Learning Can Identify Students Who Need Help
Like PCSD, California’s Redding School District uses GoGuardian as a key component in its content monitoring strategy to protect students from the darker side of the web, and also to help teachers manage their classrooms, says RSD Superintendent Robert Adams. Located near the Oregon border, the district has eight schools, plus several partner schools and a home schooling program.
RSD adopted content monitoring four years ago while planning for its one-to-one program, which involves about 2,500 of the district’s 2,900 students, beginning in the second grade. By fourth grade, students are allowed to take their devices — either a Samsung Chromebook 2 or a Dell Chromebook 11 — home.
“We want to protect them from inappropriate content and keep the trust of parents, who expect us to create a safe environment for students,” Adams says.
In addition to blocking sites designated off-limits by RSD, GoGuardian Admin uses machine learning algorithms to provide contextual awareness as the software continuously scans content — blocking dangerous content or sending cautionary messages to students and alerts to administrators.
Admin offers granular filtering that can be adjusted for on- or off-campus use of devices, and settings can be customized for individual students. GoGuardian also tracks the Chromebooks to facilitate recovery of lost or stolen hardware. RSD uses GoGuardian in conjunction with Gaggle, which combines machine learning technologies and trained human observers to monitor email messages and documents created or shared by students.
The district recently adopted GoGuardian Teacher, which allows teachers to view their students’ screens in the classroom to see what sites and documents students have open. Using GoGuardian, teachers can message students in real time to assist them and keep them on task.
While content monitoring enforces good digital citizenship, the technology is more than a disciplinary tool, Adams says. “The biggest benefit is that we can use the technologies to identify students who are distressed or need services,” he says. “We might have identified them through our counseling program, but the content monitoring is an important tool for communicating student needs.”